For many friends and acquaintances who are far too anxious these days…
Are we living in consequential times? Or do we just think we are because we have nothing better to do?
Over the last several months, I have noticed certain writers out there who have been advancing the argument that the world’s situation in 2018 is not as consequential as most of us believe. I suspect one thing most people would agree on today is that we are living in a period of significant consequence. There’s an abiding belief that we live in an age unlike any other, and while the advent of the Internet and its easy breezy access to “data” as well as the onslaught of social networking probably is as revolutionary as the printing press was in the mid 15th century, do these innovations necessarily mean we now live in an age that is more consequential than any other? Or is this just a myth perpetuated through endless strings of tweets and posts and comments from people whose understanding of their own importance is higher than it ought to be, fueled by the fact that social networking has now made it easy for them to do so?
In a March 11, 2018 article titled, “There Will Be No Civil War Today,” Kevin Williamson rather brilliantly advances this point that the world’s current situation is not as consequential as we imagine it. Moreover, we only imagine it because of a distorted view of our own lives. The truth? We are bored. This explains why we are glued to our TwitFacetagrams and why we take endless selfies and post them for the world to see. Wouldn’t Narcissus himself be proud? Just think what he could do with a selfie stick! Meanwhile, we post all these things thinking our legions of followers need to know and must necessarily agree because they follow us.
Williamson’s more basic point is that this boredom, played out all over the place on the Internet, makes us suckers for just about anything. He cites the “QAnon” conspiracy theory that is the rage among many conservatives. Confidently asserting that our current president is winning a 9-Dimensional chess match with the Left and the Media, Q-Anon predicted that yesterday (March 11) John Podesta was going to be arrested. (It didn’t happen). Former President Obama is slated to be incarcerated at Gitmo according to this theory.
The problem is actually how many people really believe this stuff. Williamson is not arguing that we are lacking the intelligence to see through this piffle. He’s arguing we’re too bored, so we are too ready to believe it must be true. He portrays modern life as a constant seeking of tension and release, tension and release. We go looking for this tension and release because it breaks up the boredom. Online fake news, online porn, online social interactions, 24/7 “news,” (add drugs and alcohol here), etc. In our little online echo chambers, we pick the sources of our information. So obviously what we know must be true. Do you watch Fox News or CNN? Truth is determined by us and which of these outlets we believe is telling the truth. The sad reality is that much of this tension does not get released. Of course, much of this tension didn’t need to happen in the first place. Americans need to learn to engage their higher brains before putting their emotions, particularly anxiety, into gear.
Slaves to the grind? We are the guilty parties here. We let all these pursuits ratchet up our anxiety and then release it when other information comes out. If it’s what we want to believe, we will believe it. Facts need not enter into the discussion for us to believe it. We have “our facts,” not necessarily objective facts. Certainly, this is partially the fault of a biased media. The word “media” translates “middle” and precious little in the media seems to be objective enough to be presenting the middle of anything. Still, our suspicion of the media, or even our own preference for this or that outlet for our information, really fails to deal with the problem. We remain slaves to the very outlets we seem to distrust. The only real solution is to turn our TVs and computers and devices off or at least cut off our addiction to news and information, whether or not any of it is true.
But then we would be really bored. But whose problem is that? The justification of all this silliness is that we live in consequential times. Ergo we need to know the truth. Unfortunately, the objective truth is not what we mean. We need to know that what we believe is the truth and it’s not about facts. It’s about how many people agree with us. This is what brings the millennial college student who protests a speaker off the campus and a conservative Fox News viewer together. They are both looking for validation not of the facts, but of what they believe is true. They are both threatened by anyone who sees things differently. They both get angry when someone raises valid questions about their beliefs. (It’s getting increasingly dangerous to be a pastor in these times as the Bible doesn’t offer validation for any of this). The opponent provides tension. The ally provides release. To give all this up would be to bore ourselves to death.
Or would it? America in 2018 is an anxiety driven mess and this chronic anxiety is the only thing that makes our age consequential. Countering boredom with anxiety does not seem like a win to me. I could make the argument that there is a case to be made for boredom, for allowing oneself to be bored. I don’t really believe that. As a pastor who teaches the Holy Scriptures, I believe the better argument is to fill our minds with better things. I have always loved our church body’s youth ministry “Higher Things” if for no other reason than its name. The idea is to give young people higher things to think about. Those higher things come from the Scripture, not their Snapchat accounts, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, et al.
One of the more beautiful things Paul ever wrote encourages Christians to rise above the din of all the noise in our world today.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [Phil. 4:8-9 ESV]
If Christians, in particular, are feeling the weight of all this anxiety, if they can’t relate to the idea of “peace,” I would suggest there is something seriously wrong with their faith. I am not arguing that peace is a feeling necessarily. I will argue that filling our minds with Paul’s “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy” things WILL ratchet down our anxiety. It will not be boring. And peace, whatever we think it is, will likely emerge.
There is a better way. The boredom which fuels the information addictions that fuel the anxiety that fuel the echo chambers that fuel the narcissism, all of that is a dead end. There is a better way. All of Paul’s terms are summed up in the Gospel, in Christ, in the Good News of a God who saves us. Time spent meditating on the Gospel is time far better used than the time spent glued to our many and various screens.
The biggest benefit of all is that such a pursuit will draw us outside of ourselves. Narcissus, our Old Adam, will drown in the pool from which he admired his own reflection. The Gospel draws out our concern for others and their needs. We won’t be too bored to care. We will care, and care for others means we are not bored. We are engaged, engaged in our salvation and engaged in our concern for others.
There is a better way.
In the love of Christ,